Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s unofficial motto, outlined in his New York Times bestselling book, is to make America Florida. The GOP primary—and, if DeSantis wins it, the general election—will be a referendum on Florida. So the media are selling a dishonest narrative that Florida is a repressive and awful state—one where books get banned, the word “gay” can’t be spoken, black history is forbidden in schools, and migrants, LGBTs, and other oppressed groups live in fear for their lives.
The latest bit of Florida clickbait involves the sacking of a charter school principal, Hope Carrasquilla of Tallahassee Classical School, following parental complaints that sixth-graders were being shown Michelangelo’s nude statue of David. The BBC and other news outlets presented the story as though Carrasquilla was dismissed solely because the students were shown the statue. “Florida Principal Hope Carrasquilla Ousted After Michelangelo ‘David’ Art Lesson Upset Parents,” read the headline in the Washington Post; “Is ‘David’ Porn? See For Yourself, Italians Ask Florida Parents,” Politico titled its story.
Tallahassee Classical School follows a curriculum designed by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan, and has procedures for notifying parents of potentially controversial lessons in advance. According to local news outlets, two parents complained that they weren’t notified of the lesson involving David, and one called the statue “pornographic.”
Local news outlet WCTV provided important context that the narrative-chasing media outlets ignored. School board chair Barney Bishop told WCTV that the principal wasn’t dismissed solely because of the David incident. And Carrasquilla herself told WCTV that she was informed “it wasn’t one specific thing” that led to her firing. “Over time he didn’t like the way I did, or didn’t do, certain things,” Carrasquilla said (emphasis added), referring to Bishop. WCTV also noted that the teacher who presented the David lesson wasn’t disciplined. Given these facts, the incident was likely a pretext or the final straw for the firing. And in any case, the incident had nothing to do with DeSantis or any legislation he signed. But that didn’t stop many media outlets from linking the story to DeSantis’s efforts to protect parental rights in education.
I contacted the BBC to ask why it hadn’t reported any of the evidence showing that the decision to fire the principal wasn’t strictly because of the statue. A spokesperson replied that the BBC had reviewed its report and concluded that it was “accurate.”
I recently wrote about a similar incident in which media outlets such as USA Today claimed that DeSantis was responsible for “banning” or “censoring” biographies of baseball legends Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente at public schools in Duval County, Florida. Roxanna Scott, the executive editor and vice president for USA Today Sports, told me, “I don’t believe a correction is required and I stand by our reporting. . . . Nancy (Armour) didn’t write that DeSantis had urged the Aaron and Clemente books in particular to be banned. She wrote about these books being held back as part of a law that DeSantis supported.” I pointed out to Scott that the headline of the piece said, “Kids Books about Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente Get Censored.” I also sent her quotes illustrating that Armour did indeed assert that DeSantis wanted the books banned. But USA Today stood by its story because it fit the narrative that Florida is a repressive place.
Other media outlets, including the AP, have also needlessly sounded alarms over DeSantis’s appointment of Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo and other conservatives to the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees, dubbing it a “hostile takeover.” The AP story reads like an opinion piece. It has five quotes, all from sources condemning the governor’s efforts to transform a woke, underperforming college with declining enrollment and an abysmal 13 percent matriculation rate.
“Students are concerned, too,” writes the AP’s Jocelyn Gecker. “Some fear for their physical safety. . . . They are not wrong to worry. Some students are fleeing, for schools that feel safer.”
NBC News and other prominent media outlets have stoked fears about SB1718, a bill proposed by Florida state senator Blaise Ingoglia that includes a provision making it a third-degree felony to transport illegal aliens. DeSantis has been tough on immigration throughout his first term and went on to win Florida’s Latino vote by 15 points last November. Various polls, including one from Telemundo last year showing that Hispanic immigrants were the biggest supporters of DeSantis’s move to transport illegal aliens to Martha’s Vineyard, have shown that Latinos support immigration enforcement measures. But the media seem not to believe it. An NBC News article describes the bill as part of “an immigrant crackdown by Gov. DeSantis and Republicans in the state”—not an illegal-immigration crackdown, but an “immigrant crackdown.” Suzanne Gamboa, the author of the piece, claims that the move “has religious leaders and groups worried about how they will carry out their pastoral work and live their beliefs.”
I contacted Gamboa to ask why she characterized the legislation as an “immigrant crackdown” rather than an illegal-immigration crackdown. She defended her reporting, claiming that it was justified “because some people may have documents such as permission to seek asylum as did many of the people who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard and people who were here on legal visas and overstayed, that is not illegal immigration because they immigrated legally.” As a former consular officer, I can confirm that the overwhelming majority of visa overstays are foreign nationals who overstayed tourist visas, and those migrants didn’t “immigrate” here; they presented themselves fraudulently as tourists at embassies and consulates abroad. And when they overstay their non-immigrant visas, they’re just as illegal as those who cross the border illegally.
Of course, it isn’t just the media doing this. In social media posts, interviews, and at a rally in Waco, Texas, Donald Trump has portrayed Florida as a failing state, better off before DeSantis became governor. This despite DeSantis’s 19-point reelection win and the fact that Florida’s population increased (1.9 percent) from 2021–2022, more than that of any other state.
The NAACP also got in on the Florida-is-North-Korea act, issuing a travel advisory recommending that blacks not visit or move to the state. The group’s Florida chapter claimed the move was in response to the state’s “African-American studies ban.” In fact, students in Florida—including my sons, in seventh and ninth grades—are required to study black history, and DeSantis signed legislation mandating that they learn about the 1920 Ocoee massacre, in which a white mob killed dozens of black Floridians who exercised their right to vote. DeSantis’s only objection has been to a planned Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies curriculum that was, according to the College Board, scrapped even before Florida objected to it. The woke draft curriculum included works from proponents of critical race theory and prison and police abolition, and it had units on black queer studies, the case for reparations, “Black feminist literary thought,” Black Lives Matter, intersectionality, and other pet progressive causes.
The bottom line: don’t believe anything you read about Florida until you’ve fact-checked it yourself.
Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images